The U.S. Space program has been around since 1958 when President Eisenhower signed the Space Act, creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The environment in space is very different from Earth, so innovation and invention are integral to the success of any space mission. In fact, it was written into the law that research and advancements should benefit all people. NASA can’t do all the research itself, so they have partnered with many individuals and companies over the years.
Sometimes a product already exists, but NASA needs improvements. Here are a few of the by-products of space research that you might use in daily life:
Scratch-resistant lenses Space isn’t as empty as it looks; it’s filled with particles of dirt, dust, pieces of asteroids, etc. Scratches on the astronauts’ helmet visors from this space debris could impair their sight, so NASA developed a special coating that is ten-times more scratch-resistant than regular coating. Foster-Grant was first to license the NASA technology for use on their sunglasses.
Memory foam This special plastic foam was created for use in NASA aircraft seats to lessen impact during landings. Memory foam returns to its original shape even after being compressed to one-tenth of its size. Its shock absorbency properties have made the technology useful in commercial products such as mattresses, wheelchair seats, cushioning for prosthetic limbs and protection for racecar drivers.
Invisible braces These braces, designed by a company called Unitek, are made from translucent polycrystalline alumina (TPA). TPA was developed by a company called Ceradyne in conjunction with NASA Advanced Ceramics research to protect the infrared antennae of heat-seeking missile trackers.
Ear thermometer NASA developed a way to measure the temperature of stars using infrared technology. A company named Diatek worked with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab to invent an infrared sensor that serves as a thermometer. Ear thermometers measure the amount of energy your ear drum gives off into the ear canal.
Joystick These days this device is associated with video games and electric wheelchairs, but it came about because the Apollo landing rover needed a specialized control system. The single control stick concept wasn’t new, but NASA developed one that was adjustable by a single finger and sensitive to the slightest touch, making it useful for more than just space vehicles.
For a look at what the space program has helped to accomplish over the years, visit spinoff.nasa.gov. Each year since 1976, NASA has published a report called Spinoff, which describes every commercialized technology and product linked to its research. The items on these lists touch many aspects of our lives, including health, safety, communications and entertainment.
Recently, NASA put out a request for proposals for new and better energy storage capabilities. Will this lead us to a breakthrough battery replacement?
One thing you won’t find on a Spinoff list is the powdered drink Tang. It predates the space program, but became associated with astronauts in 1962. That was when Tang was selected as part of the menu when John Glenn performed some eating experiments in orbit.